One of the things that I am most thankful for about living in an apartment for the first two and a half years of Ella’s life is that we really got into nature. Not having a backyard, we sought out parks, nature conservation areas, gardens, and other natural environments to explore. I was also more involved with our outdoor explorations than I would’ve been if we just been hanging out in a backyard. (Now that we do have a house with a backyard, I’ll admit it’s nice to sit on the porch with a lemonade and watch Ella and her friends play sometimes!)
The benefits of playing outside are mental, physical, and emotional. Everything from the vitamin D from the sun, to the gross motor challenges of a natural terrain, and the hormonal benefits of sinking their fingers into dirt and smelling fresh grass help children develop in a myriad of ways.
But not all of us grew up playing outside, and some of us even have aversions to various aspects of nature — bugs, allergies, dirt, and worse! My personal issue is tall grass; I am terrified that there will be a snake lurking in the grass and I am going to walk right into it! Try as I might to tell myself that the fear is irrational, I still have to take deep breaths and practically run through paths covered in tall (snake-hiding) grass. (Oh, and the worst kind of snakes that we have in my area are garter snakes, just to emphasize how much of a wimp I am.) I’m really working hard to push past my fears, but I also am trying to be respectful of my limitations so in the meantime, we’ll be keeping our adventures out of the knee-high grass.
Often, children don’t need any encouragement to find fun outside, but if your children could use a little direction, you can:
- make “natural art” using wildflowers, leaves, or grass (on contact paper or glued to heavy cardstock)
- host a scavenger hunt, using baskets or egg cartons to gather your findings
- look through a different lens: magnifying glasses, unbreakable mirrors, or pocket microscopes
- find an area of the yard that the children can make their own, let them build, dig, and tinker to their heart’s content
- buy or make a nature journal for your child to record their observations (a great way to incorporate writing or representation drawing outdoors)
- let the children take care of one section of the garden, everything from planting, to watering, to pruning and weeding; they can also make their own garden art to decorate
And the learning about nature doesn’t have to end when you come inside. Provide books about nature to build on interests that you see your children developing when they are outside, watch youtube videos to answer questions on rainy days, and best of all, let your children bring a bit of nature inside with them! Nature tables are a wonderful addition to any home, and can incorporate a mix of materials, or you can incorporate the materials into Reggio-style invitations, or even home decor!
How will you and your children be exploring nature this summer?
(And yes, that’s a quote from Dinosaur Train, one of Ella’s Favourite shows!)